Community / A suitable impressive burning to mark the occasion

BY Up Helly Aa night, the temperature had dropped to around two degrees.  Squads and spectators gathered at Hillhead under a starlit sky, waiting for the torch-lit procession to begin.

Jarl John Nicolson made an impressive silhouette, framed against the galley and the hazy torch-light. Photos: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

The Jarl Squad marched on to Hillhead to appreciative roars from the crowd and the melodic strains of Lerwick Brass Band. Light-up illuminated the usual weird and wonderful assortment of guizers: suits ranged from fish to hot dogs to former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell.


As the galley was wheeled along Hillhead, Jarl John Nicolson (AKA Thorstein Egilson, the youngest son of the Icelandic warrior-poet Egil Skallagrimsson) made an impressive silhouette, framed against the galley and the hazy torch-light.

The streets were thronged with onlookers: local spectators, photographers chasing the perfect capture and visitors who had travelled from far and wide to witness the festival first-hand.

Andrea Webber, bedecked in Viking plaits and a helmet said she was “delighted” with the evening so far. “I’ve come from Dornach. I brought my husband here for his birthday. I’m planning to come back next year!”

The jarl in front of his burning galley

As the evening reached its fiery climax, the flames from the galley rose in a vertical column undisturbed by a breath of wind. The calm night brought everything into sharp definition: a suitably impressive burning for the festival’s hundredth anniversary.


As the torches were thrown onto the galley, a distraught voice from a young onlooker called out: “I don’t want it to burn! It’s too beautiful!” But burn it did. It was a mesmerising burning, worthy of Up Helly Aa’s hundredth anniversary.


The burning over, the crowds began to disperse. As the Jarl Squad marched purposefully from the King Harald Street park, Jarl John Nicolson reflected on the day so far.

“It’s been brilliant, just brilliant,” he said with a wide smile.  “The burning was the highlight, I doot, but it’s all been great. It started off a bit wet this morning, but the weather tonight, well, it’s just made it. And now we’ve got the night ahead to look forward to.”

Genevieve White/ Photos and video by Hans J Marter/Shetland News